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Richard Siddle's tongue in cheek guide to "What to know about wine" in new Kitchen Magpie

Published:  19 May, 2014

Richard Siddle, editor of Harpers Wine & Spirit, was asked by award winning author and journalist, James Steen,  to write a tongue in cheek chapter for his new book, The Kitchen Magpie, on "What to know about wine". Which you can read below.



Richard Siddle, editor of Harpers Wine & Spirit, was asked by award winning author and journalist, James Steen,  to write a tongue in cheek chapter for his new book, The Kitchen Magpie, on "What to know about wine". Which you can read below. 

The Kitchen Magpie is described as a "delicious concoction of culinary (and drinking) curiosities". A classic coffee table book for those who love their wine and food and all the weird and wonderful stories behind them. It is published by Icon Books and costs £12.99.


Magpie: Can you tell us about the history of wine in about one hundred words, please?

Richard: Well wine is another to add to the list of 'What have the Romans ever done for us'. Wherever the Romans went you can  bet there will be a healthy and mostly wealthy wine industry left behind. As to who actually started making wine then there is a lot of competitive bidding going on between the Moldovans, the Georgians, the Lebanese and even the Turks. Take your pick really as they all have a good story to tell. Even though they have been resting a little on their laurels when it comes to the actual quality and volume of wine they have produced ever since. 


Magpie: Does wine compare to any other interest?

Richard: Wine is a bit like Formula 1 - or golf, for that matter. You can just enjoy it for what it is. A quick, easy way to enjoy yourself, pass the time of day. Or you can get obsessed with it. Try and know and understand every last little fact about it. But you never will as it is like trying to get your head round the complexities of space, the universe and the meaning of life. Make mine a nice glass of Albarino or Malbec and leave it at that.


Magpie: What is life like for a winemaker?

Richard: A bit like being a posh farmer, really. You get to live in a big house in the middle of nowhere surrounded by fields. But instead of mucking out pigs and hanging out at the stables you get to show off your wines in Michelin-starred restaurants and get told you are a genius by highly impressionable wine writers for picking grapes, sticking them in a fermentation tank and then putting a funny name on the label.


Magpie: In my dreams I own a vineyard. Is this wise?

Richard: Finance. There is an old adage in the wine world that to make a small fortune in wine, you need to start with a large fortune.

But don't feel too badly for anyone who tells you that because they are normally stinking rich and fly around the world with a big smile on their face, drinking their expensive wine in wonderful restaurants in beautiful locations.


Magpie: What about investing in wine?

Richard: On the face of it incredibly complicated, with spreadsheets, mile after mile of complex tasting notes and a whole line-up of wine experts willing to charm and confuse you at the same time. On the other hand, it is incredibly easy. Buy wine from certain Bordeaux, Burgundy and Tuscany wine producers you can pick out in seconds on Google. Preferably from a year (or so-called vintage) that is deemed to have been better than others. Ignore everything else.


Magpie: My readers and I would like to pass ourselves off as wine experts. Any tips?

Richard: First, buy a pair of coloured chinos. Preferably red. Get yourself a tweed or sporting jacket. Pop along to Berry Bros & Rudd on St James's Street in London. Buy something you can show off easily and cheaply. A Berry Bros diary or calendar perhaps, and then leave it somewhere in your house where friends and family will see it. The same  trick applies to a subscription to wine magazine Decanter. When it arrives, bend back a couple of pages and leave it on the coffee table in the front room. You can then go on and actually buy some wine, but without the above you will just be like anyone else.


Magpie: Thank you. That's helpful. What about tasting wine?

Richard: The secret is not to actually drink the wine at all. 


Magpie: I beg your pardon.

Richard: At least not for an interminably long time. First you have to swill it around and smell it. And then try to work out what all those alcoholic vapours remind you of. If you said something along the lines of fruit, be it dark or red, then you will be halfway home. Then put the wine in your mouth. If the sides of your mouth start salivating for no particular reason then you can say it is 'acidic'.

If it feels like you have put the equivalent of liquid chalk in your mouth then it has probably got a lot of 'tannins' in it. Equally, if it all feels rather wonderful and sits on your tongue just waiting to be transported down your throat then you can say it is 'balanced'.


Magpie: What about tasting wine when a sommelier pours it in a restaurant?

Richard: The only thing to know here is that they are actually not asking you if you like it, but, incredibly, whether you think it is off or not. Even though the sommelier who is asking you has given up much of his youth to know things you will never even dream of or want to know, he needs you to tell him or her that what they have opened is okay to drink. Strange but true. Other wine careers are available. Oh, and you can tell if the wine is not okay to drink if it smells a bit like the boot of your car if you have left a wet coat in there all weekend. 


Magpie: What is the difference between sparkling wine and Champagne?

Richard: About £20 to £30 usually. Other than prestige, how itmakes you feel and other than the really tip-top Champagnes, you can save a lot of money and not go too far wrong with a good sparkling wine. Okay, the way it is made is different and the grape varieties they use are different, but they both come out fizzy and refreshing. That said if you like your fizz tasting of honey and biscuits then it is worth splashing out that bit extra for a quality Champagne. Especially on a first date or if you are going to propose.

* You can buy a copy of the Kitchen Magpie by clicking here.